Tensions mount as the Colorado Avalanche continue to battle for a postseason slot, the trade deadline looms, and the coach shuffles line combinations.
1. The Colorado Avalanche remain in the thick of the postseason race, going 2-1 in the last week, have won four of their last 6 games, and currently occupy the first Wild Card spot. With both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild breathing down their neck, Colorado faces an intense race to the finish. Fortunately, the Avalanche will play the Wild two more times and the Predators three more times. Winning those games could determine who makes it to the playoffs.
2. Veteran forward Jarome Iginla racked up four more points in the last three games, including the game winner against the Montreal Canadiens. If not for a questionable goaltender interference call midway through the second period, he could have earned a hat trick. Iginla notched 11 points in the past nine games; four goals and seven assists. His game winning goal against Montreal placed him in an eighth place tie with Guy LeFleur, both earning 97 game winners in their career. His history of late season excellence continues (hmmm, think that’s been mentioned here before – gratuitous pat on the back) and hopefully Iginla can help propel the team into the playoffs.
3. Goaltender Calvin Pickard played a solid night against the Edmonton Oilers in an effort to keep starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov rested for the second of the back-to-back games. Stopping 25 of 27 shots put him with a respectable .926 save percentage, a very good outing for a backup goaltender. Will Pickard still be with the club in two weeks?
4. Statistics only tell a part of any good hockey story. And young forward Mikhail Grigorenko’s stats look good – he’s contributed two assists while averaging over 16 minutes in ice time over the past week. He has earned his opportunity to play on the top two lines with his seamless passing and relentless push towards the offensive zone. He alone could offset the loss of former Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly at his current rate of development. Won the trade!
5. Speaking of young guns, did anyone catch the outstanding play of defenseman Chris Bigras in the second period of the game against the Vancouver Canucks? He nearly single handedly kept the Avalanche in the Canucks zone for over thirty seconds, passing to the forwards, taking a shot, and collecting rebounds. He continues to impress. Still not sure why they picked up defenesman Andrew Bodnarchuk, unless Zach Redmond is really in the doghouse.
6. Defenseman Tyson Barrie put the Avalanche over the top against the Edmonton Oilers by contributing to all three goals, scoring two of them and adding an assist, while avoiding any critical errors on his own end of the ice. Barrie stepped up his play and the team won. In fact, the Avalanche are 17-1 in the last 18 games Barrie notched a point. For the team to make they playoffs, they need to see more of this Tyson Barrie.
7. Forward Matt Duchene has quietly gone about his business and tallied one goal and three assists in the past week. Looking for a breakout game for him in the next week to help advance the team’s playoff aspirations.
8. The team as a whole showed some grit over the last week, coming back twice against Montreal to score the game winner with two minutes left, and win at home. The coaching staff showed a willingness to mix up the lines in an effort to spark scoring. Colorado acquired and held a lead against Edmonton, holding the Oilers young phenom, Connor McDavid, to one point. And despite running into hot goaltender Ryan Miller while in Vancouver, the Avalanche continued to put pressure on the net. The team accumulated 95 shots on goal in the past week, a significant improvement from two weeks ago.
1. Forward Nathan MacKinnon continues struggling to find the back of the net. Despite 13 shots on goal in the last three games, he has earned neither an assist nor a goal. He has a five game point drought. In the last 18 games, MacKinnon produced only seven points. Ouch.
2. For the love of great Landy’s beard – could the NHL please clarify what constitutes goaltender interference? Jarome Iginla gets called for goaltender interference on what looked like a quality goal when a week before, Tyson Barrie gets pushed similarly into his own goaltender and there is no call. Yes, the game goes fast, but there needs to be some consistency in the rulings so players know what they can and can’t do.
3. While the NHL officials are clarifying goaltender interference, perhaps they could answer the question of whether a coach can challenge a call when an on-ice official has already called a penalty. Coach Patrick Roy had been told he couldn’t challenge such a play yet the Oilers were allowed to challenge. Again, the answer is less important than that consistency in the application of the rules. Guessing from one game to the next should not be an answer.
4. The Avalanche are 13-16-2 against non playoff teams. One would hope the Avalanche find a way to win the “easier” games.
1. Two dumb penalties in the second period of the Vancouver game could have cost the Avalanche comeback opportunities. The first, a ‘too many men on the ice’ call. If this were the team’s only one of the year, it could be overlooked. Yet, throughout the season, it has tended to be a precursor of bad things to come. The second, Varlamov's ‘delay of game’ penalty, which led to the third goal for Vancouver with only a few seconds left in the period. The play itself seemed oddly out of character for Varlamov.
2. Could the team please, pretty please, quit cycling behind their net for a full minute when on the power play? Please? Isn’t the power play supposed to generate momentum on the other end of the ice?
3. Wing Jack Skille left the Vancouver game early after taking a puck to the leg. It was only his second game back from concussion injury. The Avalanche need him as he is a quality winger who presses play. And they need all hands on deck for the postseason push.
4. Okay, what super genius thought putting Cody McLeod on Carl Soderberg’s left wing was a good idea? They need some time in the penalty box because that was just ugly. And whatever happened to the McLeod, Mitchell, Skille line? Does anyone else remember them doing some real damage to opposing teams?
5. And finally, just because the other team runs a good forecheck, doesn’t mean you have to avoid them and hide behind your own net. Take a page from Cody McLeod’s second period play against the Canucks - push through and past the opponent to carry the puck into the offensive zone. And for those scoring at home, that’s why McLeod deserves to be on the team. It’s time to be pro-active and take the play to, and through, your opponent.
1. The Avalanche front office traded Colin Smith, from their AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage, and a fourth round pick in the 2016 draft for the Toronto Maple Leafs forward Shawn Matthias. Hopefully, he will play on Soderberg’s wing once his visa issues are resolved.
2. Goaltender Reto Berra was sent to the San Antonio Rampage on a two-week conditioning assignment. So the goalie watch resumes – who will be Varlamov’s backup – Pickard or Berra?
3. Defenseman Nate Guenin was finally sent to San Antonio after twice clearing waivers. Still not sure what the Avalanche were doing with him.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. The trade deadline looms on the horizon as February 29 fast approaches. Will the Avalanche find a quality stay-at-home defenseman to bolster their current corps? Will any of the teams chasing them make a big move? Stay tuned for ‘As the Trades Loom’....
2. The all important Stadium Series games have finally arrived! The Alumni game starts Friday at 5 pm while the official game against the Red Wings kicks off at 6 pm on Saturday. Let the revelry commence! And while not likely, once could hope to see Roy challenge Chris Osgood on center ice. Good times....
3. The playoff standing watch intensifies this week as the Avalanche play only two games, while the Wild have three games and Nashville has four. The tension mounts!
4. In case anyone missed defenseman Erik Johnson’s sweet short handed goal against the Canadiens, the link is below.